Hawaiian Classics

•August 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Whenever I go to visit family in Hawaii I always indulge in a few local favorties. The first is Poke from the grocery store. We usually get our fix at Foodland but really you can find it everywhere. I here the Costco incarnation is quite good.

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Fresh, flavorful, and incredible value. Half a pound for $6. Next on the list is Leonard’s Bakery (I had to settle for the food truck in Pearl City on tis trip) and Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore.

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I’ve made malasadas at a charity event in Hawaii but I could never some close to matching these. Hot, sugery, doughy goodness. They are light, fluffy but still substantial enough that you only need a couple to reach satisfaction…or three or four (because they taste so good and I’m just being indulgent).

The shrimp truck on the North shore always has a long line and for a good reason. It’s fresh, hot and awesome! This may be some of the best shrimp you will ever have. There is the scampi, which is loaded with garlicky goodness and the spicy which packs a LOT of heat. Be careful. Some people get the hot sauce on the side but I just let them load it on. Then my mouth is numb for about an hour. Totally worth it! Lastly is Spam from Zippy’s, Loco moco from the airport (or really anywhere) and mana pua from Chun Wah Kam.

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Zippy’s is a staple in Hawaii. Fried chicken, teri beef, it’s all good! Spam musubi was a staple growing up and I even make it at home whenever I miss Hawaii. A little bit of furikake spice, salty spam wrapped in seaweed, a nice snack on the go. Loco moco I’ve only ever had as a breakfast dish. It’s basically a hamburger patty topped with egg, over rice and smothered with gravy. Hawaiian “benny” perhaps? It’s AMAZING! This one came with a side of mac salad. Creamy goodness to clogs the arteries even more than the main dish. Manapua is basically a BBQ pork bun but this place fills it with everything from pork to chicken to curry. Again, classic goodness, great snack, or have two or three…maybe four or five for a gluttonous meal. The eats in Hawaii are truly awesome! It’s comfort food, not fine dining, but the rich classic flavors always hit the spot for me.

https://www.leonardshawaii.com/home/

http://www.giovannisshrimptruck.com/

http://www.chunwahkam.com/

http://zippys.com/

Neptune Oyster (Boston)

•August 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was in Boston on business this week and it reminded me of one of the best meals I’ve had. On a previous trip to Boston, a friend of our’s who lives there recommended Neptune Oyster.

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We arrived on an early morning flight and made it to the restaurant about half an hour before it opened and there was already a line. Luckily we made it in for the first sitting but got the last table. Of course being in an oyster bar, it seemed logical to try the oysters!

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We tried a combination of their daily west coast and east coast oysters. I love the briny flavors and slimy texture. They are fresh, big and delicious! But what this place is famous for is their lobster roll.

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They don’t skimp on the fresh, sweet and massive chunks of lobster. The roll is warm, lightly buttered, soft and squishy… perfect with the lobster meat. I walked past the kitchen and got a glimpse into how they prepared the lobster. All I saw was them putting a huge brick of butter into a frying pan and tossing the lobster meat in the air. It was beautiful! To date, this is probably the best lobster roll I’ve ever had! Definitely need to make a trip back!

http://www.neptuneoyster.com/

Hokkaido Ramen (Sapporo, Japan)

•August 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So on a recent trip to Japan, I found out that the birthplace of ramen is in Sapporo, Japan. In the heart of Sapporo there is a place called Ramen Alley. It’s honestly a little hard to find but when you find it, your nostrils are filled with the smell of delicious broth, bubbling noodles, and cooked meat.

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We went to one of the places in the alley. I don’t know any of the names but this place could only fit 8 people, like most of the places, and a single chef prepares all the bowls to perfection.

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Below is the miso ramen, something our guide said everyone has to try since this is the original place for miso ramen.

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Rich broth, perfectly cooked noodles, balanced by ground pork, egg, and green onions. I normally don’t drink all the broth but it was so tasty I couldn’t help myself.

http://www.best-of-sapporo-japan.com/japanese-noodles.html

We travelled to Otaru and found a packed ramen shop for lunch.

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The miso ramen at this place was excellent. The broth was even richer than ramen alley, but the noodles were probably more spaghetti like. I prefer the ramen alley version but this was still great!

http://www15.plala.or.jp/shodai/

The last bowl I had was at the airport.

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This was the lightest miso broth but still more flavorful than most places in North America. The extras are welcome additions. The noodles are excellent. Again, not as perfect as ramen alley but maybe better than the ones in Otaru. Overall, ramen in Sapporo/Otaru is awesome!

http://www.new-chitose-airport.jp/en/spend/shop/s138.html

Hanamaru (Sapporo, Japan)

•August 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was recently in Japan where the food is amazing! While in Sapporo, our guide told us that some of the best sushi in town was at a place in the Sapporo train station called Hanamaru. She warned us there would be a long line and well….see below.

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The wait time was about an hour but the system inside is very efficient and the turnover is quite fast. The first to come off the conveyer belt was salmon, tuna, and the scallop roll.

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I figure we would start off with the basics like salmon and tuna. BEST SUSHI I’VE EVER HAD! How is it possible that it is this much better than every other place?! Japan must hoard the good fish. Next we pulled off a cooked item because you know, fried chicken. Here is the HUGE morsels of Chicken Kaarage.

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Hot, crunchy, and insanely juicy! We saw the next dish pass by a couple times and I won’t lie, I pulled it off a couple times because after the first bite I had to have more. This was one of my favorite dishes: Aburi salmon.

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I don’t know what it is about torched sushi that I love. I love the freshness of raw sushi but the heat must bring out more flavor additional flavors. Here is the Aburi fluke, which I also couldn’t help pulling off numerous times.

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We also tried the Inari, sushi rice wrapped in deep fried tofu wrap.

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Nothing to write home about, but solid. Next that came off the belt was the O-toro, because you can’t ever pass up fatty tuna belly!

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So rich. So awesome! And then the medium fat tuna came by.

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Almost as rich but not as oily and fatty. Both are awesome! If I had a bigger belly, I wouldn’t have stopped. We also saw a scallop roll by so…why not!

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Best raw scallop I’ve ever had. Next the Mackeral.

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So fresh! So good. You are getting the general message. Another aburi fish came by. Not sure what it was but it was delicious.

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The Chef’s are masters at the craft. I’ve never seen sushi chefs throw the rice balls together with such expertise. I watched them plate 6 plates in less than 30 seconds. It was awesome and we had a front row seat!

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There is constantly good stuff passing by on the belt which makes overeating an easy endeavor. We managed to keep it a little under control but all left full.

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To date, this is the best sushi I’ve had in my life. And what’s crazy, is that we ate enough to fill up 3 people for less than $50! How is that possible?! Best sushi of my life for that cheap! I should move to Japan.

http://www.sushi-hanamaru.com/la_en/

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken

•August 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So I’m a big fan of fried chicken in all shapes and forms. In my experience, there are a few factors that weigh into the perfect piece of fried chicken: (1) quality of the meat, (2) quality and spice blend of the breading, and (3) freshness from the fryer. The problem with most fast food places is the freshness from the fryer and the low quality meat they use. The batter mix, like the Colonel’s secret recipe or Popeye’s spice blend, is excellent but it’s just a matter of getting the other two factors right. Enter a Taiwanese fried chicken joint, Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, a popular chain in Taiwan that has recently expanded into the Toronto market.

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The white meat chicken breasts are pounded into a flat filet, breaded, fried, and then seasoned to perfection…all cooked to order which hits the freshness “fryer to mouth” criteria in spades. The Original large fried chicken with spicy seasoning is the signature dish.

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Crispy, hot, juicy and loaded with flavor (I think there is fried garlic in the breading) with some nice spice. The heat builds as you work your way through the meal. It starts off mild, but builds to a decent level of heat once you hit the bone near the bottom of the filet. It’s also huge. The size of most people’s face. It’s juicier than most fried chickens you’ll eat, largely due to the freshness, but doesn’t taste greasy like a lot of fried chicken right out of the fryer. I’ve also had it with the seaweed seasoning which is nice but I prefer the heat. For people who can’t handle the heat, I would recommend the salt and pepper or the seaweed which are both lovely. Another option aside from the original signature blend is the Large fried chicken with specialty BBQ sauce.

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Again, it’s fresh and juicy. The sauce adds a nice, sweet BBQ flavor. The breading absorbs the BBQ sauce quickly so it’s not as crispy but the saucy flavor is a nice change. It’s like wanting saucy chicken wings versus dry wings. It’s a matter of preference. I like both so it would depend on my mood. Next is the Crispy large fried chicken.

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This has an amazing crunch to it! The breading is slightly thicker than the original but wow, again driven by the freshness from the fryer, a wicked crunch! The spice blend adheres well and the chicken is as juicy as the other incarnations. I figure since they do fried food well, the Fries and Chicken Popcorn are probably a good bet.

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The fries are crisp, and meaty (or potatoey). The chicken popcorn are nicely fried morsels of mostly dark meat chicken. The breading is crisp, the spice blend is as good as the other larger pieces, and the meat is juicy. The drinks on the menu are interesting. First is the Passion fruit soda.

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Sweet but not too sweet. I’m told not to shake it because I’m sure the gas would blow the top off. The passion fruit is tasty however a little too diluted with the soda. The Green apple yogurt is not diluted at all.

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Super tasty. I wouldn’t say it’s thick like a milkshake but it doesn’t have a water-like consistency (definitely thicker). Rich, sweet and sour apple flavor. I like it! The Sunrise Strawberry Soda is more like the passion fruit soda.

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It has a nice flavor I just wish there was more of it. A little too diluted and you can’t shake it because it might blow up the served package.

Overall, Hot Star Large Fried Chicken serves up some wicked hot (fresh), tasty fried chicken! When I judge by my three criteria, it hits all three points. Fresh, white meat chicken and while the bone is annoying to work around near the end, it also adds flavor! The batter and the spice blend is a “pick your own adventure” type of situation which works on all levels. The Original is crisp and delicious, the BBQ sauced is saucy but the fried nature still holds up, and the crispy is just super crispy while still being able to hold the spice. And the sides and yogurt based drinks are solid. I’ve never been to Taiwan, but if this is how they do friend chicken, I may need to make a trip soon!

http://www.hot-star.ca/

 

Halal Guys (Toronto and NYC)

•July 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

At work I used to sit next to a young man who’s favorite meal was chicken and rice. Simple taste, protein rich and enough carbs to fuel his daily workouts. The dude was huge! When I think “chicken and rice”, I think Halal Guys. I actually stumbled on to the original NYC food cart a number of years ago while staying at the Hilton in midtown. I walked out of my hotel and saw a line stretching down the block (a NYC avenue block and trust me, it’s much longer than a street block). I decided to give it a go and have had cravings for it ever since.

They recently opened a location in Toronto. The first few weeks, pictures of lines around the block filled the social media world. They have sandwiches, falafel, but most people go for the meat combos on rice. Below is the gyro, chicken combo on rice. Gyro beef, chicken, a bit of veg, pita slices on rice topped with the GLORIOUS white sauce and hot sauce (and when I say “hot” I actually mean HOT).

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The meat is juicy and the veg is fresh and crisp. It’s the white sauce that crushes it and makes this dish special and the hot sauce is something else (if you like heat, which I do). It’s creamy, nicely spiced, perfect texture to soak into the meat without being to watery. And the hot sauce, WOW, it’s got some heat! I can take my spice and this makes me sweat a bit. And this was just two small squirts.

To compare, a friend of mine asked me to compare it to NYC on a recent trip. Here is the chicken combo from the original Halal guys cart in NYC.

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So good! The meat is a little juicier and there is twice as much. SOOOO much meat! The pita slices were also left on the flat top little longer which crisped them up. Some people may like that (like me) but others may like the softer version from Toronto. They also let you have sauce control with bottles on the side of the cart. On this trip I may have been a little overzealous with the hot sauce, but I LOVE IT!! If you are in NYC and looking for cheap and delicious chicken and rice, I can’t think of a better place. In Toronto, if you have the craving (like I do frequently) this is enough to get your fix without having to make a trip south of the border.

http://thehalalguys.com/

PG Clucks

•June 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been very vocal about my love of friend chicken and have made it one of my life’s quests to find the world’s best friend chicken. In pursuit of this endeavor, I was pointed to Nashville. Everyone I spoke to who’s been there would rave about the Nashville Hot Fried Chicken. Several years ago I made it to Hattie B’s and must say, it’s the best fried chicken I’d had in my life!

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I ordered the medium spice combo. Spicy chicken with two sides and a drink. I got the mac and cheese and beans as sides. The sides are solid and nothing to write home about but fried chicken is legendary.

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Crispy, juicy, fresh, meaty and spicy as hell! It’s juicy without being oily. The batter is crispy and crunchy but doesn’t flake as you’re eating it. It’s the best friend chicken I’ve ever had and it has made my list of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

There is a relatively new place that has opened in Toronto. Many locals are saying they have the best fried chicken sandwich in the city and Nashville-style hot fried chicken, something I’ve been trying to find north of the boarder for several years now. A friend and I made it up to College street and arrived at PG Clucks.

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It’s s tiny shop with a couple fryers that are serving a steady stream of customers. They warn you as you order that it will take about 10 minutes since all the chicken is fried to order. This is key! The Classic has coleslaw, pickles, smoky chili sauce, and buttermilk ranch sauce.

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The chicken is crispy and juicy. We ordered the hot version which is balanced nicely by the cool coleslaw and ranch sauce. The bun was nice and soft, and absorbed the greasiness and hot chili oil that oozed out of the fried chicken. The pickle adds a hint of sweetness and a different type of crunch. Next we tried the Jalapeno Honey fried chicken sandwich, a piece of honey dipped fried chicken, sweet pickled jalapeno, fermented jalapeno sauce, and ranch sauce.

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Again, crisp, hot and amazing! The jalapenos are surprisingly sweet and the added honey over other the fried chicken is a nice touch to balance out the heat.  If you are hungry, try the Big Cluck! It has two pieces of fried chicken, a piece of American cheese wedged in between, lettuce, onions, pickles and mac sauce.

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It’s a beautiful mess! This was on a different visit and the chicken is hot, crispy and consistent from trip to trip. Every time, fresh out of the fryer and piping hot. It’s “Big Mac”-like construction results in shredded lettuce and chunks of breading flying about, mac sauce dripping onto the wrapper, and oil dripping down my hand. Or maybe I’m just a ravenous eater. Little from column A, little from column B. Then there is the traditional Nashville hot chicken.

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No bones, which is nice. The chicken is crispy, juicy and spicy! It is greasy though and the hot oil oozes out of the chicken. It looks kind of gross swimming in the oil but the flavor is worth the extra time on the treadmill. It’s got some heat. Not Nashville heat, but hot enough.

They also do delivery. Below is the Nashville Hot chicken after delivery (two pieces with coleslaw).

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The extra sitting time allows the batter to build up an extra crunch (hence the darker color between the two pictures) and also soak up more of the hot oil. The chicken retains its juiciness and better than any of the chains I’ve order from in town. I also finally tried the tenders (these seem to sell out regularly).

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The pieces are a little smaller and insanely juicy for white meat morsels. They also made these Nashville hot (which I didn’t specify in the order but was happy to oblige). I would imagine it’s a nice side to a sandwich if you want more protein but for the value, I’m more inclined to go with the full size for a dollar more (and you get a nice cooling side like coleslaw, mac, or potato salad).

Another “must try” are the donuts, honey crullers to be exact. Apparently the secret menu item is to make a sandwich with the donut instead of the soft squishy buns but for the purists, the donut is incredible on it’s own.

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It may be the lightest and most airy donut I’ve ever had! It’s sweet but not overpowering and the inside is almost creamy. A perfect dessert after delicious, hot and crispy chicken!

Nashville will always hold a special place in my heart, but it’s nice to know you can get an amazing fried chicken sandwich and Nashville style fried chicken right in our own backyard.

https://www.pgclucks.com/

http://hattieb.com/